On Saturday, the current UFC featherweight champion will defend his title for the fifth time against interim champion Yair Rodriguez in a title unification bout. Rodriguez earned the interim belt in February by defeating Josh Emmett in the second round with an impressive and powerful finish. He has gained a reputation for his exciting and devastating finishes since winning The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America in 2014. The reigning champ, Volkanovski, is fully aware of Rodriguez’s abilities and is taking this challenge seriously.
On Wednesday Volkanovski said The MMA Hour. “But people just quickly forget about that fight IQ, about my resilience and my durability. I’m just very well-rounded. I’ve got all the tools and I’ve got all the right tools to be where I am right now. There’s a reason why I say it every time for my fights — I don’t think I’m athletically gifted or anything like that, it’s all the other stuff that make me the champion I am, and make me who I am. And that’s why you can never really count me out. That’s why I believe the way I lose to anyone in my division is that someone landing a lucky punch, catching me.”
“Saying ‘lucky punch’ is probably pretty disrespectful, but someone that catches me. I don’t see anyone actually beating me. But then you’re talking about opponents that have more of a chance of doing that, it probably is Yair Rodriguez when you look at him having that danger factor. Can I go out there and make this look easy? Yeah, I can. I can go out there and make this look easy. But does that mean he’s not dangerous? No, he’s very dangerous. But I’m well prepared, and I’m ready to go out there and show why I’m the man.”
Despite losing to Islam Makhachev at UFC 284, which ended his 22-fight win streak, and his attempt to become a two-division UFC champion back in February, Volkanovski still holds a perfect record as a UFC featherweight. He has won 10 out of 10 fights in the octagon at 145 pounds. Moreover, his remarkable title reign consists of three triumphs over former champion Max Holloway, along with dominant victories over Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung, also well-known as “The Korean Zombie”. Rodriguez’s journey is quite different from that of Rodriguez. Although he entered the UFC at a young age, “El Pantera” had to overcome some tough lessons and losses before reaching the title fight. However, Rodriguez demonstrated significant growth and maturity in his abilities with his win over Emmett.
“He’s always been very good with these spin kicks and flashy stuff at a longer range. He’s always been good there, but then now he’s just so good at all ranges,” Volkanovski said. “Even when you’re close, you don’t know whether he’s exiting, whether he’s throwing spinning elbows, flying knees, teep kicks, whatever it is. So he’s very good at all ranges. I think earlier on in his career, he was probably much better at one range. But now you’re seeing him a lot better at all ranges and even his ground game — obviously, he’s the type of guy that always goes for the finish, even on the feet and then on the ground. But again, he’s just sort of molded everything together to make that perfect style for himself.”
According to Volkanovski, he is not offended when fans and media say that there are currently three UFC champions from Mexico, even though Rodriguez’s belt may not be as official as those won by flyweight titleholders Brandon Moreno and Alexa Grasso.
“He’s an interim champion, so yeah, let him have it. It’s alright” Volkanovski said. “Let him enjoy it while it lasts. You know me, I’m not going to throw any disrespect, but everyone knows I’m the real champ, and I don’t need to care about anything else.”
Volkanovski is still focused on getting a rematch against Makhachev and is aiming to fight on the Oct. 21 pay-per-view in Abu Dhabi at UFC 294. However, that doesn’t imply that Volkanovski is finished with the 145-pound weight class. He is also looking towards Ilia Topuria, a rapidly emerging contender from Spain, whose UFC record reached 6-0 in June after a dominant triumph over Emmett at UFC Jacksonville.
“Fresh blood would be incredible, right? Give me some of that fresh blood” Volkanovski said of Topuria. “I’d just say, without disrespecting the bloke, I don’t want him to face anyone else, especially like Yair. Say if I was to take out Yair this weekend, he faces Yair after that – I don’t want that to happen. I look at Yair as a much bigger threat and way more dangerous fight, to be quite honest. Just being brutally honest with him.”
“But a lot of people are hyping Ilia up, so no worries, all good because I know he’ll talk a little bit of trash as well, so that’ll make it fun. And I know I’d give him a good whooping. But I’ve got Yair to worry about, and yeah, we’ll do that, and then we’ll see what’s next. Again, I’ve got Yair to worry about, but after that, what is it? Is it going to be Islam? Is it going to be Ilia? I want to fight; I want to be active. Depends on how long a certain fighter is going to be, I’ll squeeze one in before that because I ain’t lying when I say I want to be active.”
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